- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Step into Fran’s House of Ceramics on Monday afternoon, and near the entrance, owner Fran Reynolds and five other chatty women sit at white tables lined up in a horseshoe pattern.

The 80-year-old Reynolds wears blue jeans and a purple-and-white plaid button-up jacket over a red Disney character T-shirt. Father Time has wrinkled her skin and turned her once-curly auburn hair snow white, but she’s sharp of mind. Reynolds sits at one of the tables, laughing and trading barbs with volunteer Jan Divens. The rest of the women paint or put glitter on their ceramic pieces, and Reynolds offers them advice whenever they call on her extraordinary insight.

Her talent is on display throughout her store on the 100 block of West Memorial Drive. Hundreds of exquisite ceramic pieces occupy five long rows of shelves. Dozens of moldings and boxes with paint and other items fill the eastside and northside rooms.

Reynolds first opened her business in 1965, operating out of her home, and in 1971, she moved into her current location that somehow remains open 43 years later.

Signs with two Bible verses hang on the north side of the building. Written in blue on a white background against the wall is “Oh Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are the work of your hands.” Isaiah 64:8 is written underneath. On the counter, hangs a white sign with II Chronicles 20 written in black letters, “The spirit of the Lord is here and our eyes are on him.”

As the signs indicate, Reynolds is a woman of faith, and she leans on that faith every month when she tries to scrounge up enough money to pay the utility bills.

Fran’s House of Ceramics is yet another mom-and-pop shop hemorrhaging money as consumers flock to Walmart and other super stores.

Her customers pay an average of only about $10 a week for material and lessons, and with the number of customers on the decline, that only covers a portion of her expenses, she told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/1DHQ4hx ).

“You can charge on your credit card, but there’s only so much you can charge before you have to start paying,” says Reynolds, a 1952 Central High School graduate who stayed out of debt in the past by dipping into her income from American General Life and Accident Insurance Company. She retired in 1999 after 47 years at the agency.

Divens fears what will happen to Reynolds if her ceramic shop closes.

“If she wasn’t down here, she’d probably be going to greener pastures,” the 62-year-old Divens says. Divens spends nearly the same amount of time at the shop as Reynolds, and on Monday nights, when Reynolds stays open until 9, Divens is by her side to escort her to her vehicle.

Reynolds said the shop offers her the company missing back home.

“It gives me a chance to meet people, get out of the house and not sit in front of the boob tube with the clicker,” she says.

Her husband, Jim, died in 2005 shortly after he underwent an operation to remove a brain tumor.

She lost her only child, James, in May of 1967. James was in the Marines and died in combat in Vietnam.

Reynolds vividly recalls that spring morning when two Marines showed up to her house to tell her of his death. James’ dog, a Cocker Spaniel, refused to take his heart medicine that morning, delaying her leaving the house for work.

“He wouldn’t swallow the pills, kept spitting them out,” she says. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have been there.”

Her artistic creativity served as a coping mechanism following her son’s death. Reynolds continued to create ceramic pieces, took quilting classes at Miami (Ohio) University and knitted sweaters for a children’s clothing shop in Michigan.

Divens says Reynolds is just as talented a quilter and knitter as ceramic artist.

“You didn’t know Betsy Ross was her great-great-great grandmother, did you?” Divens says with a sly grin. Divens wears blue sweats, a hooded blue sweatshirt and a USA red-white-and-blue beanie over her short gray hair. She is as comfortable in her own skin as she is in her leisure wear.

Asked to spell her last name, she says, “Just like a Givens with a D because I don’t give anything” as she gestures by making a circle in the air and then flexing her right arm with her hand pointed out.

Her self-deprecating sense of humor usually keeps the mood light in the shop. Occasionally, the conversation shifts to a serious subject, though.

A captive audience listens as Reynolds recalls the time a man robbed her and her customers at gunpoint 10 years ago. She says he demanded they all lie on the floor and proceeded to take all of their purses.

About five years ago, Reynolds sat alone in the store early one morning reading the Bible when a man carrying a knife broke in and demanded she hand him all her money.

Reynolds says he cut her shirt as he reached into her pocket for her billfold. She chased after him, and the point of his knife pressed into the palm of her right hand before he fled the scene.

The mark on her hand healed within a few days, as Reynolds escaped yet another robbery without any serious injury.

“The good Lord was looking after you,” says 71-year-old Carolyn Bond, as she sits a few feet away at the table and puts the finishing touches on a ceramic Ten Commandments tablet.

Reynolds smiles, nods and says, “He always does.”

___

Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com

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